Book Reviews

Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law. James B. Stewart. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.

Controversy regarding Russian meddling has dogged Donald Trump’s presidential administration since before its inception. The controversy is too long to summarize here; the best summary is the Mueller report itself (Mueller Report). You might recall that Robert Mueller asserted that Justice Department rules precluded him from offering any judgment whether the president had broken any laws–since a sitting president could not be called to trial or before a grand jury, the president would be foreclosed from refuting under oath any charges. Mueller’s report concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election in favor of Trump and against Clinton (perhaps because of Trump’s pre-election Russia-related business dealings both inside and outside Russia, and because of Senator Clinton’s support for the sanctions placed on Russian oligarchs in the Magnitsky Act), and that Trump committed acts that amounted to obstruction of justice during the post-election inquires into actions by him, his backers, and staff. Ever since, Trump and his enablers, including Attorney General Barr, have worked to make invisible the report’s findings. Among their tactics has been assertions of the existene of a “Deep State” and FBI “bias.”

Stewart takes no position regarding bias or lack there of. Instead, as did Sargent Joe Friday in old Dragnet re-runs, he asks for “the facts, only the facts, and nothing but the facts.” Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, walks steadily and without comment (prior to the concluding chapter) through the history of the FBI investigation, date-by-date, step-by-step, person-by-person. Need I repeat the truism that facts have a liberal bias? The facts put to the lie Attorney General Barr’s biased four-page summary of the Mueller report, Trump’s self-serving denials, and more recent attacks by Barr and Senate Republicans on the dedicated civil servants that staff the FBI.

This book should be read by every American patriot who values the Constitution, the rule of law, and fears authoritarians. Bill Barr and Donald Trump excepted.

The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era. Gareth Russell. New York: Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) 2019. Previously published as The Darksome Bounds of a Failing World. London: William Collins. 2019.

The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era

The April 14, 1912, sinking of the Cunard Line’s steamship Titanic seems always to fascinate. Not the largest or fastest transatlantic steamer, she was built as the most elegant. No expense was spared during three years of construction. Its inaugural sailing attracted a cast of the wealthy and elegant, in addition to more than a thousand steerage passengers largely from Ireland and Scandinavia.

Russell’s book focuses on the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He obviously is not a fan. Their vanities, foibles, and indiscretions: all are discussed in detail and dispatched. The British title is more descriptive than the American one: the darksome bounds of a failing world.

I found the book initially interesting–but soon tired of the repetitive discourse. My view is that the business side of the White Star Line, its construction of three enormous sister ships (the Olympic class), and the loss of the Titanic is a fascinating marketing and business story. The story of the fading Victorian lifestyle of the rich passengers, much less so.

For many readers, I suggest a different book: The Titanic: The History and Legacy of the World’s Most Famous Ship from 1907 to Today, by the Charles River Editors (2014). This volume spans the Titanic’s construction, outfitting, passengers, sinking, and subsequent British and American inquiries. Fascinating detail is included regarding the first, second and steerage class passengers, including their accomodation, family relationships, romances, and children. I prefer its broader scope, and the absence of Russell’s obvious strong disdain for the British upper class.